Expats show their metal in NZ

2011-09-15 00:00

THE World of Wearable Art Awards could teach Lady Gaga a thing or two about tongue-in-chic sensibility.

This annual event, one of the few of its kind in the world, in Wellington, New Zealand, celebrates sartorial­ outrage and snakehipped eccentricity.

Ask South Africans Karl and Erna­ van der Wat, who first went there on holiday more than 13 years ago and have remained on since — who were among this year’s notable category winners.

“We landed in Auckland and basically­ stayed here. We just loved it,” says Karl, taking the opportunity to reflect on his voyage from South Africa to the South Pacific­.

In South Africa, Karl was a private­ pilot who fondly remembers flying to “old Durbs” to spend time on the north coast.

“I grew up with a holiday home in Illovo. That’s where me and Erna­ had our first kiss or was it our fourth? I can’t remember. It’s like 25 years ago. We would go there once or twice a year and spend time in Durban.”

Karl came from a farming background. His family had an ostrich farm in Klerksdorp, where they also farmed maize and peanuts. Erna­ was a dietician.

The couple, both in their early 40s, now live in a picturesque house on Auckland’s North Shore with their cat Angel.

Karl is a property manager with a passion for vintage cars, and Erna­ is still a dietician, which made winning the WOW Factor Award all the more surprising.

The WOW Factor Award is chosen­ by the show’s creator, Suzie Moncrieff, as the most innovative garment with the WOW Factor.

The prize was NZ$5 000 (R30 000).

Karl and Erna entered their work, Reflection, made of aluminium­ tubing, stainless steel and mild steel in the avant garde section.

The concept was Erna’s that came together on the spur of the moment, according to Karl. The tubing is riveted onto steel on an angle, which gives the optical illusion that the pipes bend.

By the last show, on the eve of the South Africa versus Wales match, 50 000 people had seen their creation.

Karl says that the size of the 17,5 kilogram garment made transportation from Auckland to Wellington difficult.

“The piece was so big I couldn’t fit it on a trailer,” says Karl. “So I put it on the back of my boat — that’s the only place it would fit — in a huge box. It gave me an excuse to go fishing for the rest of the day,” he laughs.

Erna credits her South African upbringing for her winning creativity.

“I am inspired by the colours [of Africa] and growing up with moms and oumas who were so crafty.

“In South Africa you are surrounded by all that craftsmanship — native artists with their own artistic flavour­. That played a huge role.”

Karl says that WOW is a good precursor to the Rugby World Cup.

“But I think it could have been marketed a little better in South Africa­.

“I think they could take it there easily. It could be shown on its own there with all the creative people in Africa.”

Karl and Erna come back home once a year to visit their parents.

“We miss the family most of all. We always have a marvellous time when we go back because it is only really us here in New Zealand. Yes, we have lots of friends here, but we still miss Africa.”

Asked to decide between South Africa and New Zealand in this year’s World Cup, however, all the male half of the happily relocated couple will allow is that he intends supporting the winning team.

“I am sitting on the fence,” admits Karl, who surely knows a thing or two about winning these days.


• Dawn Tratt is a journalist working for Radio New Zealand whose family emigrated from South Africa to New Zealand in 1996. Email dawntratt@gmail. com

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